Rights groups accuse French police of brutality in pension protests

Criticism from human rights watchdogs mounted on Friday over the alleged brutality of French police in handling protests opposed to President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform.

French authorities arrested more than 450 people on Thursday in the most violent day of demonstrations since the start of the year against the bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

In the days leading up to Thursday's protests, rights groups had expressed worries over what they termed "arbitrary" detentions and the excessive use of force by police.

But security officials have defended their actions, saying they are responding to violent rioters and anarchist groups who frequently infiltrate French demonstrations to provoke clashes.

France's Human Rights League has accused the authorities of "undermining the right of citizens to protest by making disproportionate and dangerous use of public force".

"The authoritarian shift of the French state, the brutalisation of social relations through its police, violence of all kinds and impunity are a major scandal," the league's president Patrick Baudouin said on Friday.

The Council of Europe -- the continent's leading human rights watchdog -- warned that sporadic acts of violence could not justify "excessive use of force by agents of the state".

Rights groups have raised concerns over the repeated use by police of "kettling", also called "trap and detain" in the United States, a crowd-control tactic consisting of cordoning off protesters in a small area.

They have sounded the alarm after reports from recent protests of police detaining foreign schoolchildren, firing teargas at kettled protesters, and even hurting a man so badly he had to have a testicle amputated.


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